earlier in the week WF gave me a copy of his latest What's Brewing to read. I had a flick through, and was surprised to find that, erm, I kind of knew all the news already.
This was a bit of a shock. Granted I am spending more and more time reading about beer on the Internet, but it was surprising to what extent the online world had covered these stories already. When I read Beer Matters there are always snippets of pub info or brewery news that I haven't picked up on, or clarifications about rumours doing the rounds in the pubs.
Yet Beer Matters is really the local What's Brewing. All local CAMRA mags carry a few stories borrowed from CAMRA HQ or campaigns teams, but then fill the rest of their copy with relevant local details. That the editor is prevalent on Sheffield Forum may or may not be relevant here, (I could likely create a whole new blog called "Beer Rumour Mill" based on stuff read on there) but WB (that's What's Brewing, not mi sen) seems to be a slightly redundant read in the Internet age.
The Smoking Gun (and other stories)
So does this mean the Internet has killed What's Brewing? Or have the restrictions of publishing and the printed medium simply made the internet and its hosted content the only viable means of communicating up to date knowledge and information?
Well, I can see straight away this may form part of an endless debate on the merits of paper versus webpage but in order to clarify, I am interested purely in the web's role in writing about beer.
Firstly, lets not forget, not everybody is on the Internet. Not everyone can get on the Internet. Not everyone would entertain the idea of getting on the Internet (ironically, one person I have in mind is Wee Fatha, who of course bequeathed the copy of WB that started this idea going). So before we even look for an answer to the above, I'm not suggesting CAMRA or any other organisation stop printing altogether. Lest we forget, the interneet is a mere bairn in comparison to the printed word, a suckling one at that. And its a long way from perfection.
Secondly, lets also remember, the printed word, or getting your own words printed, is arguably much more out of reach than the Internet. Setting up a blog takes 30 minutes. Getting published is a gruelling task.
I have tried to get printed a few times. Not very successfully. In fact, that's kind of dressing it up a bit. In my first foray I contributed some spoof articles to a comic (described rather incongruously as a fanzine) called The Pulp, in Sheffield, in the early 90's. For a start, I never got the stuff back (am over it now though, those 17 years have more or less slipped by) and only two issues were ever printed. It was a dispiritingly costly, complicated and difficult exercise, so bereft of guaranteed readership that it wasn't worth the effort.
A few years passed and I wrote up a couple of beer walks with poorly hand drawn maps that Del at the Hillsborough Hotel used to put out in his local info box for drinkers and hotel guests to use (thanks Del, by the way). Given that I never heard of any pub rambling deaths attributed to a poorly drawn route map I have to assume that even if not enjoyed, these didn't lead directly to a loss of life.
Later on I succeeded in getting articles printed in Beer Matters. So I did get my words printed on paper and seen by real people (its weird and perhaps a little sad, but I once sat in the Fat Cat watching and listening to a couple reading one of my articles. It was simultaneously enjoyable, and interesting, and, erm, a bit unsettling - God knows what would have happened had they not liked the article!)
However, the story takes a crucial twist here. I fell out with Beer Matters because they printed parts 1 - 3 of a 5 part article I wrote about my trip to Kent,* but then the article simply stopped appearing, mid story. So annoyed was I by this snub (and the damage done to the story by what at first seemed like a 2 issue break), and then the fob offs I got about when it was to be re-published in full or even the remaining parts, I decided to set up this very blog. So this tome you read is a fruit borne of anger and disillusionment with the printed word, and the embodiment of a determination to show an editor that I could strike out on my own.
The funny thing is though, whilst the blog has afforded me great freedom and provided valuable focus of late, frankly, I would give my right arm to see my work printed on good old fashioned fine smelling paper. A Wee Beefy book? Come on! That would be like a dream come true.
So arguably, it isn't the case that one of the Internet or the printed word kills the other, but actually that they are both equally essential, often to each other, but in their own different way.
I am not going to get rid of any of my books even if E-books come to contain every copy ever printed - I will still have my old tattered copies of the GBG, and my copy of "The Death of the British Pub" by Christopher Hutt. Also, Beer Matters still gets almost all its articles by email, and PR info is sent by email, which then ends up forming the basis of printed material, so there is still a working relationship between the two mediums.
And if I was writing a book about beer or pubs, I would need the Internet, if nothing else to aid planning of trips to places I may wish to write about. For example, on my first list of Britain's National Inventory pubs, the Cider House entry simply said " Cider House (Monkey House) Defford. I tried directory enquiries, as you would, and they had no number. The wanted something as absurd as an address for a start. I even went through Defford in the car with Wee Keefy and still contrived to miss my destination even with a description provided by the pub 400 yards up the road. Now you can look on the inventory website and I'd be amazed if you didn't find it (always assuming you heeded the opening times!).
And finally, the Internet continues to be a forum for inspiration provided by books. Tandleman and Boak and Bailey and Curmudgeon all recently posted about or commented on a book called "The Traditional English Pub" by Ben Davis, from 1981. (see Tandleman and the book about pub design ). A fine example of the printed word being brought into the dizzying theatre of the worldwide web to everyone's benefit.
Now I'll just re-read that WB article about online updates......
* Wee Beefy's Kentish Casks was my first ever post. Awwww. It's on the list down the side.